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Wayne State scientists, water experts explore impact of storms on Great Lakes

August 26, 2014

The storm event that swept through metro Detroit Aug. 11 overwhelmed the sewer and drainage systems throughout the region, causing wastewater to flow out to the surface and mix with the stormwater. That water, in turn, has inevitably found its way into lakes, streams and rivers. Wayne State University professor D. Carl Freeman said the amount of sewage overflow could contribute to algae blooms in Lake Erie or Lake St. Clair, as the contents of the wastewater - along with any nutrients it may have picked up from the surface soil - are effectively fertilizer. Depending on the species of algae, they could produce a toxic side effect that renders the water undrinkable and kills the local wildlife, similar to the bloom that occurred on Lake Erie in July. "We had a lot of sewage overflows, and so what this is going to do is supply a lot of nutrients to the receiving water bodies," Freeman said. "And that can lead to outbreaks of various kinds of algae, not unlike what we saw in Toledo." Researcher Donna Kashian, visiting scientist at the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory and Wayne State University professor, was more optimistic that any problems would be minimal. She said the massive amount of rainfall that hit the region probably diluted the amount of contaminants to some extent.